Thursday, October 23, 2008

Gertrude Stein Gets It

I have had an ongoing fascination with Gertrude Stein for awhile.  Her influence on modern art and literature cannot be ignored, promoting Picasso and Matisse in the 1920's, showcasing their work in her 'salon' at 27 rue du Fleurus in Paris or coaxing genius out of  Thorton Wilder and Earnest Hemingway in the 30's through her thoughts on language.  I have read many of her works and much that has been written about her but only recently have come to understand her true impact.  

Paris, France, is a slim volume, published in 1940, which gets down to the nitty gritty of being "French".  She observes her adopted countrymen and breaks them down to their bare essentials, accurately revealing what makes them tick.  For example, her observation on French men:  

In France a boy is a man of his age the age he is and so there is no question of a boy growing up to be a man and what is the use, because at every stage of being alive he is completely a  man alive at that time.
This then leads to a Frenchman's relationship with his mother and while my personal experience is limited, I observed enough in my year in Paris to know that she is spot on.  Not only with this concept but all that she touches on.  It is the only book I have read that I actually took a highlighter to so I could go back and review. 

You are probably thinking, did Kim get that quote right?  It feels as though some words or punctuation marks are missing.  No, I didn't get the quote wrong and yes, you would be right.  Her style of writing is jarring and at times takes a few re-reads which is why I also have to recommend a second book, Proust Was a Neuroscientist.   Johan Lehrer takes a fascinating look at artists, musicians and writers who challenged the obvious and took their work in another direction, all being criticized at the time yet eventually being recognized as genius' in their field.  It is here that I learned about Ms Stein's attempt to truly understand language. Taking it to its most basic form is what makes it so jarring for us as readers as it is unexpected. Our brains aren't used to seeing words put together in such a way and processing their meaning takes additional work on our part.  All the artists in this book attempted to change the hardwiring of the observers brain.   Mr. Lehrer does a great job of subtly teaching the complexities of neuroscience and how these individuals opened up a whole new way of looking at things that today we take for granted.   

OK--so those are my highbrow thoughts for the day.  They, highbrow thoughts, are few and far between for me so I share them when I can.  


Phivos Nicolaides said...

Interesting thoughts. Thank for sharing them with us.

Charity Childs-Gevero said...

I love how she has a French poodle on her cover...perfect! :) I think my French poodle is prettier, though! Smile.